Simply finding fish—or a spot where you suspect fish will be located—is only half the battle of eventually boating one. Electronics manufacturers will lead you to believe otherwise, but simply seeing fish on your sonar screen directly below—or in these hi-tech times, even to the side—doesn’t mean you can keep them there, let alone coax them into biting.
More often than not, it’s actually a matter of the boat moving off the fish, rather than vice-versa, that creates problems with maintaining contact with our finned quarry below. Anyone who has ever tried to pin a boat down in heavy current or strong winds knows how tough it can be not only to keep a boat in one place, but in the place it needs to remain within catching distance of fish or the structure that attracts them.
The same goes for working a particular area under power or adrift; trying to stay within casting range of a weedline or over a break in the depth below as the boat moves along can be challenging, and your ability to control the boat may make the difference between a light stringer and one heavy with fish at the end of the day.
It can be especially hard to control the position of high-profile craft like deck boats and pontoons, especially if wind is the primary factor. Our favorite boats may be safe and comfortable to fish from, but the features that make them so—high gunwales and flat sides—catch any breeze like a sail and swing around at the slightest gust if left unchecked by anchors, engines and other forces. Ditto current, which catches the larger footprint of deck boats and has its way with lightweight logs that float our other featured craft.
One of the best things you can do to make your boat more fishing friendly is to add a second anchor to your rig. Most boats feature an anchor off the bow, which is where the primary anchor should always be secured. All boat hulls are designed to meet and direct water coming at their bow, whether under power or at anchor in current. If that current gets fast enough, it can swamp a boat anchored in such a manner that it takes the force of the flow from anywhere but the bow. If you’ve got but one anchor aboard, and there is any threat of high winds or strong current, always tie it off the bow.
That second anchor I suggest should be located off the stern. It can be smaller than your primary anchor, for it is used to hold the boat in position from less powerful side forces and keep it from swinging while the primary anchor does the heavy work: pegging the boat in place in the face of the wind or current. By deploying both the bow and stern anchors, you can keep your boat in just about any position you need to, in order to stay over or adjacent to a particular fishing spot.
In my own pontoon boat, for my stern anchor I use a Richter model, which I keep in the motor-well that supports my outboard. Richters are compact, heavy for their size and hold well for their weight, grabbing just about any type of bottom. To the anchor I attach one end of a 50-foot line; the other end is permanently tied to the base of my center railing support post. To position myself, I drop and set my primary bow anchor upwind or current of the spot I want to fish, drift back beyond the place I want to eventually be positioned over, and drop my stern anchor. When deploying the stern anchor, I let out the length of line needed to allow the anchor to hold, depending on the depth and conditions. Then I make a loop out of the line and wrap it around the railing, and tie it off with a simple quick-release, overhand loop, which I can quickly adjust and re-tie as needed. So far, wind or current has never exerted enough tension on that line to risk pulling the loop—let alone straining the rail. Then I bring in enough of the bow anchor line to pull me back over the spot I want to fish, which drags and sets the stern anchor as it is pulled forward. Done right—and it can take some practice—that keeps both lines reasonably taut and the boat in position.
I do lots of drifting with the wind over points and flats to locate fish, dragging minnow-tipped jigs, slip-bobber rigs and bottom-bouncers until I get a bite. If the breeze is blowing too strong to keep my drift at two mph or less, I’ll drag a five gallon bucket on a stout line over the side. If that doesn’t do the trick, I’ll deploy a drift sock made for the job, a cone-shaped, underwater ‘parachute,’ also called a drogue, made of nylon to slow my pace.
I also will use my bow-mounted electric trolling motor to slow my drift, putting it in forward at a speed just fast enough to compensate for the wind while allowing me to slip back stern first over the areas I want to try. I use a Minn Kota Terrova with auto pilot that allows me to point the motor to a place I want to direct the boat toward, put it on auto, and it keeps the boat heading in that direction no matter what the wind may do to blow it off course. It’s a huge help.
Sometimes it’s important to stay over a particular depth or other feature underwater to keep your trolled baits in the fish zone. Back-trolling was developed to do just that, when walleye anglers found that by using tiller-controlled outboards and going in reverse, they could go slower, keep better control of the boat, and react more quickly to changes in direction required to follow a sunken weed edge or flooded creek channel—or even stay directly over a spot in wind or current and fish vertically.
Some electric trolling motors, such as the MotorGuide PTSv Tracking models, include a sonar feature that allows you to set a particular depth you wish to stay over, and the motor will work with the reading from the built-in sonar to keep the boat over that very contour. You can do the same by closely monitoring a good topside sonar screen and using any electric motor to stay on top of things, but it takes some practice.
Like they say: “A fish in hand is worth two under the boat.” Being able to control that boat until you can catch that fish is often the secret to success.